All Blacks search for psychological edge

By Kris Shannon

Richie McCaw of New Zealand reacts. 2014 Steinlager Series rugby union test match, All Blacks v England at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung
Richie McCaw of New Zealand reacts. 2014 Steinlager Series rugby union test match, All Blacks v England at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung

Forget about the World Cup and cast aside a record winning streak - the main motivation for the All Blacks tomorrow night will be avoiding a "horrible" defeat.

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The build-up to the third and final test against England in Hamilton tomorrow night has focused on issues of a grander scale: A possible psychological edge for the world champions ahead of next year's title defence; a place in the history books that would come with a 17th straight victory.

Where every All Black was born (+interactive graphic)

Those topics are a by-product of the series having been decided, with what is essentially a dead rubber being ascribed greater significance by an eager media and a public searching for stimulating storylines.

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But within the team, the attention has been elsewhere.

Speaking at Waikato Stadium after this afternoon's captain's run, Richie McCaw confirmed that his charges were instead concentrating on a more micro concern.

"What drives this team is more how we perform on the Saturday," McCaw said. "It would be horrible going away from this three-match series saying we won it but we didn't perform in that last one.

"So that's what the driver is and I think the guys are all pretty excited about the challenge."

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It's a challenge that, judging on the series' previous two tests, will be fierce from the tourists. England have displayed the depth and variation in style that will make them a tough prospect at home when the World Cup arrives in 2015, but McCaw said they haven't shown the All Blacks anything they didn't already know.

"They're a damned good rugby team. You give them some front foot ball and some opportunities and they'll be good enough to take it.

"Over the last couple of years, playing them in England, we realised that, but they've shown that they're good enough to take those chances."

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If the All Blacks take their own chances and complete the series sweep, they will equal the world record of 17 straight test victories held by the New Zealand team of the late 1960s and the 1997-98 South African side. It's a position McCaw has twice before faced, and he hoped his side had learned the lessons from past failures.

"We've acknowledged the fact there's an opportunity there but that doesn't guarantee it's going to happen. You've got to ask yourself how you ensure those things can get ticked off and it comes back to preparing well and performing well on Saturday."

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As for the World Cup, McCaw scoffed at the notion anything could be gained tomorrow night. As he pointed out, South Africa were hardly in sterling form ahead of the 2007 tournament, while the All Blacks lost a couple of games before winning it all in 2011.

"One week's a long time in this game," he said. "The great thing about the set-up we have with the All Blacks is we go out to win every test and every series - that's the first and foremost goal.

"You do that right and what happens next week or next year is going to take care of itself."

- APNZ

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